The Catholic Thing
The Adventure of Disruption Print E-mail
By Joseph Wood   
Saturday, 02 March 2013

Change is the only constant, we are told.  Some changes we expect – the weather and seasons, aging, elections, the routine going and coming of people at work. Other changes, less expected, we think of as disruptions.

Most good stories pivot around a disruption. Three movies made in years past, but recently watched, reminded me of this. 

In How Green Was My Valley, a working family in a Welsh coal mining village sees the end of its way of life as the industry changes, and most of the brothers leave for new fortunes far away while the sister marries unhappily into a wealthy family. The father turns to Psalm 23 for comfort before dying, while his wife is simply mystified by the rupture that has taken her children away on foreign adventures.

In Fiddler on the Roof, the Jewish father opens with a song celebrating tradition as the strength of his local people. He then watches as each of his three older daughters moves progressively away from the tradition of arranged marriage within the faith, before his family is finally uprooted in a pogrom and must move on to a new life in a strange land. 

In the more recent animated film UP, a man clings to his home against the encroachments of developers after losing his wife and companion since childhood. The film’s opening depicts their meeting and their discovery of a shared love for adventure, their wedding, their loss of a child and subsequent inability to have children, and her death just before they were to leave on the long-awaited adventure voyage of a lifetime. His next adventure is a surprise.

Disruption is often the kick-starter of adventure in literature. JRR Tolkien’s Hobbit starts with the unexpected arrival of the dwarves and Gandalf, upsetting the pleasant calm of Bilbo Baggins’ life in the Shire. Chesterton’s novels, when he wasn’t writing mysteries, began with sudden upsets. The first volume of C.S. Lewis’ science fiction trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, begins as the hero Ransom, seeking only a room for the night, unexpectedly encounters an altercation and meets an old school friend. “The last thing Ransom wanted was an adventure. . . .”  But an extended adventure was what he got, in this world and out of it. 

C.S. Lewis’ own life was one of early disruptions, with the death of his mother and his enrollment at a boarding school that harbored all the horrors we associate with English “public schools” but offered a meager education. From those beginnings, which could easily have led to a life of stunted sadness, we got one of the greatest Christian apologists of all time and one of the most trenchant critics of the twentieth-century West.

Disruption is the hallmark of the lives of many saints and great churchmen, of course. The martyrs all faced disruption and the temptations against the faith that it presents. Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy is a gift of the confusion of the later Roman Empire. One thinks of the Jesuits who boldly ventured far from Europe to evangelize distant lands. St. Patrick was kidnapped as a child and enslaved. St. Thomas More saw a career as a senior-most public official disrupted by the events that led to his execution.

      An adventure story full of disruptions

Outside of fiction and beyond Church history, the potential of disruption is readily seen. Plato and Aristotle produced some of the greatest political and philosophical thinking of all time during a period of tremendous turmoil for Athens. More recently, Francis Fukuyama described the profound cultural changes in America and the West in the 1960s and 70s and their effects on family, community, and other institutions in his book, The Great Disruption

Catholics saw that same cultural disruption reflected in the aftermath of Vatican II. While they have heard the last two popes teach the interpretation of the Council as correctly one of continuity rather than rupture, the disruption in the pews has been real.

But perhaps the greatest “disruption literature” is scripture. The fall and expulsion from Eden, the adventure of Abraham and his descendants, wars and exile all fill the Old Testament. Jesus disrupted the lives of his apostles with his call to drop what they were doing and follow Him. He assured us He came not to bring peace but the sword.

Yet somehow, with all of that sacred and profane testimony, we still expect, deep down, peace and quiet.  Very few of us escape the longing for security, ease, and comfort. The material advantages of contemporary life for so many make this urge seem normal, no matter how much our reason tells us that we should expect disruption and, sometimes, suffering.

Even by the standards of recorded history, the last century has been a time of disruption on a grand and awful scale. The prayer to St. Michael the Archangel was commended to the Church by Pope Leo XIII in anticipation of this period, and recommended by Pope John Paul II who had lived through much of it. 

Fiction, history, and inspired revelation all tell us to expect disruption. The abrupt resignation of the pope is but one example, and as Benedict begins his new life of prayer, we wait to see the next steps in the adventure that is the life of the Church.

Whether we are ending a lengthy period of turmoil, or entering a time of accelerating disruption and consequent trials, we cannot know. All we can know is that disruption goes with calling, and with it, adventure, welcome or unwelcome. And the truths we are called to follow are the only things that do not change.

Joseph Wood teaches at the Institute of World Politics in Washington.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (8)Add Comment
written by Frank, March 02, 2013
Lest we forget, God was disrupted by man's sin and so had to alter His plan to become a man himself and suffer an agonizing death to get us back. It makes me wonder if disruption comes from God or man. I am tending to believe disruption is from the latter and NOT the former.
written by Manfred, March 02, 2013
Disruption? Adventure? May I suggest this is the Great Chastisement which began over fifty years ago. Divorce, contraception rife among the Catholic laity, a "Homosexual Mafia" which pervades the entire Church hierarchy, including the Vatican and the Curia (cf. Fr. Dariusz Oko, Ph.D.'s report recently released), and now an abdicated Pope. Pardon me, but I don't see disruption-I see a decades long decline. This is a teaching moment for those Catholics who cling to the current Pope(ANY Pope) like children. He can't help you! No one person or group of persons can!This punishment is Divine in origin and therefore only God can mitigate it. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the answer. The angel with the fiery sword at Fatima repeated: "Penance! penance! penance!" Unless enough people do this, the battle is lost. P.S. Can anyone imagine that what homosexual men do with one another EVER being called "marriage" prior to Vatican II?
written by Dave, March 02, 2013
We're all aware that Tolkien did not consider The Lord of the Rings to be an allegory, but here we are with perhaps one of the most important conversations in the entire three books: “Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Manfred is right: it is time for penance, serious penance, and serious prayer to the Holy Spirit, that the right man be elected Pope -- even as we pray for our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI.
written by diaperman, March 02, 2013
Nice piece Joseph. I love someone that can provide a unique take on things and you've provided one.

In truth, this is all probably a good thing. Christianity should eventually thrive in the context of a crumbling empire. It sure did in earlier times!
written by Tony Esolen, March 02, 2013
There's disruption, and there's destruction. I've been thinking that How Green Was My Valley -- underrated even for an Oscar winner -- is really about how human avarice and envy end in the destruction of a small and lovely community. It needn't have been.
written by Joseph Wood, March 02, 2013

That is indeed one of the points of the movie -- the youngest son, protagonist, leaves the valley as we are told at the beginning, after which we watch avarice take its toll leading to his departure. But (and spoiler alert for those who have not seen it), there is redemption within and after the destruction, as the simple, decent village toughs take care of the bully teacher, and the departed spirit of the father and husband confirms to the wife and mother that, after all, the truth is the glory of it all. The fall from Eden need not have been, but in a few short weeks the liturgy will remind us of the happy fault. Surely you, of all people, are not surprised. Disruption and destruction go together, and God either causes, or uses, both for our good. Was not Christ disruptive and destructive, and yet fulfilling of truth, in the (literally) most loving possible way?

written by james, March 02, 2013
Vatican II was, of course, of the Holy Spirit who has guided Christ's Church from the beginning. If one believes that, then perhaps disruption needs another balancing concept: continuity, which really is one of the great apologetic foundations for us as Catholics. Working out of that beautiful continuum, this day for the Catholic Church is not one of regret or of trying to turn the clock back; rather, this is a day to deepen our relationship with Christ, broaden our mastery of his Word, renew the beauty of our liturgical practices while retaining Vatican II's charge to increase participation, and to think more in terms of mission. We need to think more in terms of witnessing to Christ through community, work, service, and evangelization. In sum we need to recognize this less as a time of disruption and more of a time of what George Weigel calls evangelical Catholicism.Come Holy Spirit! And a third concept might be irruption: God breaking into the human realm and working within and through and by it. That reality is, I believe, the only way we can understand the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Eucharist and eventually our own rising from the dead. Again, come Holy Spirit!
written by Graham Combs, March 03, 2013
A fine corrective to our current despair. Well mine. But of course the disruption must be responded to, not ignored or merely raged against. Sometimes that response requires a literal leap of faith. And there is the danger of exasperation, even exhaustion, from such continuing disruptions that appear strategic. This may be where we are now. I don't know. God's "shock therapy?" Possibly. The sources of those disruptions seem rarely benign. But again, a fine column. Thank you Mr. Wood.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters